Monday, March 22, 2010

Tomamu Catski and the end of the Japan tour

Sorry about the last report, I guest that sleeping in a bed as made me lazy!...

So, we left Otaru and drive towards Tomamu resort. We drove all the way to Shimukappu and park the car to get some sleep. During that night, it rained really hard and the wind was shaking the van...
The next morning brought us exactly what we thought all night... a frickin ice ring to ski on!
The wind was still up so all the top lifts were closed leaving only the lower lifts running... After gathering our motivation in the ski lodge for about 3 hours, we finally get ready to check out what the conditions were like.

After a single run, we packed our stuff and headed to the hotel (yeah, yeah an hotel!!!)

Outdoor Japan set me up to review the catski operation of Tomamu and the resort has been keen enough to get us a room at the Tower hotel!

The room was great and we were lucky to be able to watch, listen (and not really understand) some Japanese TV. Do you know that snowball fight is actually a sport (with tournament, teams and coaches) in some part of Japan!????
Don't have to say that we weren't much looking forward to ski the following day.....

Well overnight, it snowed!

With the snow come back our motivation to go skiing and check out the catski operation!
Since everything was happening in Japanese, we didn't understand much of what was happenning; at some point, we even thought that we were going heli-ski, but unfortunately the high winds grounded the chopper.....
But we finally took off and when it was time to ski, we weren't the tourist anymore!!!
About 20-25cm coupled with some high winds turned the conditions from stay-at-home-and-drink-beer to wow-I-never-though-it-could-be-that-great-today!!!

The terrain is not super steep, but really nice for intermediate and advance skier. Of course, the staff know their terrain and all the run we did were pretty nice.
We were able to lap 3 runs/1000m vertical before lunch.
At lunch, we were quite suprise to realize that is was to happen inside a teepee, with a chef cooking the food on the site!
The lunch was much better than what we usually have (which is quite often nothing!!!)!!!!!!!
After few coffees to stay awake after this huge 4 courses lunch we took off for 3 more runs and another 1000m vertical!
This was quite a great day! Considering, that at some point we thought about pretending that we were sick not to go, it was even better!!!!
From Tomamu, we made the drive back to Niseko where we had to drop the car. Niseko Village was so stoked about the article I wrote about Mizuno no Sawa, that they offered us some pass for the day!!! Clayton, from the Black Diamond Lodge came up with us and showed us the back bowls. There was about 10cm of fresh snow sitting on some packed powder. We then lapped the backbowl making gigantic, fast GS turns.

After going a bit everywhere on the mountain, we finally took off when the blizzard that was happening forced the closure of the top lifts.

Clayton offered us to drop the car directly at the airport! That was really a good thing for us since we still had some stuff to do before leaving!

Before dinner, we had some time to kill so we walked into the best tele store in Niseko call Toryu. That happen to be owned by one of Japan's top telemark skier Yutaka Takanashi. Yutaka saw the picture of Babiche's skis and all the staff in there were pretty excited to check out his homemade skis!! It is quite a bummer that we had to leave Niseko, because they really wanted us to go out and tour with them.... maybe next year?!!!

After feasting over some Okonomyaki, we drove to Jozankei to catch up with Neil Hartmann that, at the beginning of the winter, gave me some quite good backcountry spots!
We met him at his really cool cafe and had few beers talking about each other winter and future plans!Then was the final day in Japan. After some final shopping, packing all the gear and dropping the van (without a single scratch!!!)We ate as much as we could and dry as much as we could to bring some Japan with us!!!
The following was some regular airplane travel (wait, sit, passport-please, now boarding, sleep, watch TV, etc.....) After about 26 hours of travel (including some waiting time!) I was quite glad to be back in Quebec city.

This was a great way to celebrate a 5th season of snowchasing by going to Japan! I still have some plans for next winter so hopefully, I will be able to nail a plan to entertain you!!!!

Thanks for following me this winter and I hope you enjoyed it!!!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Powder, swimming, wet snow and sampling!

From Floating Island, we went back to .... Floating Island. It would be lying to say that the snow was pilling really fast, but is was pilling constantly! What began with some decent conditions that finally turned out to the best conditions we had in weeks!

We stayed there 2 more days lapping different lines and exploring different ridges and bowl around the tunnel.

The north side features longer lines and steeper terrain than the south side. It also feature a sketchiest ski out since it goes through multiple gullies and natural runouts.
Since we were running out of food, we drove back to Asahikawa. By looking at the forecast, we realized there was some snow forecasted on the following day. We thought that Furano might be a good guess.

When we woke up, we realized that the snow that was forecasted as changed into a massive windstorm..... without any snow.

No new snow means that we were left with only the groomed runs to ski. After a total of one run. We poached the run under the chair lift that link the Kitanomine and the Furano side. It was a line I was thinking off since last year when I first visited Furano.

The conditions weren't that great so we though that maybe under the tram might be a better try. By looking at all the tracks, we weren't the first that though about skiing under the tram. We skied it fast in between two trams. When I got at the bottom, I wasn't able to see Babiche. After a little while, I hiked back to try to spot him. He finally showed up, hiking from the run I just skied out.
The reason for his little hike was that he fell into a creek! He showed up all wet and soaked up! That kind of cut the day as he needed to dry out! That was quite funny and I did spend a lot of time laughing at him!
We left Furano to head to Sounkyo to ski Kurodake. The wind were forecasted to be low, so it seemed like a good time to try that resort. As we were getting ready in the parking lot, we realized that there wasn't much skier heading up on the tram! It turned out that probably only 20 skiers took the tram that day.

If you ever think about going to ski Kurodake, there isn't anything to ski inbound. The tram leads you to a double chair lift that covert much more distance than vertical. What is good about Kurodake is the backcountry. From the top of the double chair, it is fairly easy and straight forward to hike up the peak of Kurodake.

From there, you have access to some really nice terrain. If you are not in the mood for a little adventure (as we were), you can follow the main gully from the top for a nice mellow run.

There was a little windcrust from the top, but it did get better lower down. What we had was 6in of fresh dry snow laying on packed powder.

Since the forecast was calling for harsher wind, we though that going toward a north facing tree shelter run was probably our best guest. We made the drive back down, towards Sapporo Kokusai just south of Otaru. From the parking lot of Sapporo Kokusai, there is a lot of good backcountry available. We went for the most obvious line that is going straight down to the road. The hike was fast and what we skied was some steady wet snow.

We drove back up to Otaru to visit one of the coolest town that I visited on Hokkaido. Near the port, there is a touristic street with a lot (and by a lot, I TRULY mean it) of sampling to do. One of my favourite place was a fish market where you could tasted so much different raw, dry and cooked fish!
There are also some Hokkaido's speciality....

We ended up that great day of sampling at the Otaru brewery for the Japanese version of the famous German Dunkel beer!

We are now heading towards Tomamu, where some cm's of snow are on the forecast.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Dry-periodisis crisis over!

The rain and the fog have stopped our motivation short at Myoko and instead of skiing, we just drove straight to Niigata.

It was fairly straight going and (as always) full of interesting road signs....

We took the ferry as planned and then we were off for an 18 hours journey. The ferry was quite comfortable (there was even a free spa onboard!) and the sea was pretty calm so everything went pretty smooth!

There wasn't much to do, so we eat.... and sleep.....
We finally arrived at Tomakomai on Hokkaido at 4h30am. The thought of finally being cold again, not being able to cook a real supper because of the bad weather and putting ice frozen ski boots weirdly seemed quite appealing!

As we drove down of the ferry, we were excited by few cm of fresh snow on the ground and the cold weather....

Since there was a warm front few days ago coupled with some rain, my first plan was to go high, so we drove to Tokachi-dake. The weather was really nice and for the first time, I was able to get a good view at the surroundings mountain.
We put the skins on and started hiking. We soon realized that the rain had hit as high as where we were skinning, since there was a hard layer of ice underneath. Babiche really wanted to go summit Furano-dake, but my motivation was back-order and I just sat down like a kid, decided not to go further. We finally headed down on an unsteady slope that keep changing from smooth to ice.
There was a bit of snow on the forecast, so we drove up towards Kamui Ski Links, where I had such a good time with Amelie. We woke up in the parking lot with about 10cm of wet snow. As it was on my previous trip, the slackcountry of the peak was really nice and we lapped it all day rushing to make sure we were not going to miss a run. It was one of the first day in a while that we were skiing some fresh snow!
Since it was good but a bit wet to our taste, we thought that it might be better a bit up high. So I drove back to Floating Island, where I had some terrific days with my dad.

The slopes on the south side of the tunnel were affected by the sun, so we decided to ski the north side of the tunnel. As we were hiking, we realized that the snow was quite dry and that the crust was not that close to the surface.
We made up our mind to ski a the leeward side (where the wind deposit the snow) of the ridge we were hiking and that was a good decision!
We weren't feeling the crust and there was about a feet of snow everywhere! We lapped it all day not yet really realizing that we were having a real good powder day!!!
After one of our best day in weeks, we were wondering what the conditions would be elsewhere in the area. We drove south towards Sounkyo, where the ski hill call Kurodake is. It was so windy the following morning, that we figured our best bet would be to ski at the floating island once more!The conditions were just getting better and we were skiing in a deep feet of snow! The snow has been falling on and off all day as we were making more and more turns.Our mental health is getting better now with some more snow on the forecast for almost all week and temperature below the freezing level.
We don't feel quite adventurous, so we'll probably stick around the Floating Island a bit more waiting for the conditions to get better across the Island!

A few more powder days and I'll be heal from my dry-periodisis crisis!